Portland takes a car lane and makes it a mile-long pop-up park

© CIty of Portland Archives/Portland Bureau of Transportation

Portland's traffic wonks are trying not to make the city be a victim of its own bike-friendly, ped-friendly success by expanding a popular park with additional space, taking away a car-traffic lane to make more room for biking and walking.

Waterfront Park in the downtown area of the city is a Portland success story. In the 1970's Portland Mayor Tom McCall oversaw the removal of the Harbor Drive freeway pictured at left above, and the subsequent greening of the waterfront with the park that was eventually named after the mayor.

Now the 36-acre park is a magnet for both tourists and city dwellers who walk, run, skate, bike, and even live on the broad walkway and in the grassy strips. But in addition to being one of the premier sites for the city's many festival events and celebrations, it is also a commuter throughway for bicycles and walkers getting to and from work in the morning and evening.

Portland has the highest bike commuting rate of U.S. cities (between 6 to 8%) but the tension between speeding cyclists, dedicated walkers and meandering pleasure seekers has become legend.

So, taking a page from the playbook of both New York's Jeanette Sadik-Kahn and also Canada's 8-80 spokesman Gil Peñalosa, Portland decided to expand the reach of the park, if only for a little while.

Starting today, May 22 and going through June 5, Portland is creating pop-up bike and pedestrian lanes by taking over a 15-foot, mile-long stretch of pavement normally reserved for northbound car and truck traffic.

Called #BetterNaito partly after the normal name of the street, Naito Parkway, and with a nod to the city's group of #BetterBlocks public-space advocates, the project is not permanent, but it is intended to get a feel for how the Portland Bureau of Transportation can help better accommodate and make non-car traffic safer.

Designed by a group of students at nearby Portland State University (PSU), #BetterNaito is also an experiment to see how Portland can deal with some of the festivals and events at Waterfront Park that can create dangerous circumstances for people walking and biking as big crowds on the walkways push them further and further into the car-filled streets.

Funded in park by Clif Bar and People for Bikes, the experiment will include, in its last three days, an extension of the 15-foot path for a few blocks further northward and creation of a bi-directional bike lane to test it as a possible fill-in to a noteworthy gap in Portland's bike network. Bluetooth sensors will count bikers, walkers, and cars during the test.

While there's no guarantee that the test lanes will become permanent:

“If officials decide to pursue permanent changes to Naito, they’ll have the data to support their decision,” said Jennifer Dill, Transportation Research and Education Center director, in a release regarding #BetterNaito.

Portland takes a car lane and makes it a mile-long pop-up park
Decades ago a prescient Portland mayor tore down a freeway to make a riverside park in the heart of Portland. Now transportation wonks are taking a traffic lane to expand that park with a pop-up ped and bike lane.

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